Melania Doesn’t Care

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8 mins read

I read Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s book after seeing this clip from Rachel Maddow’s show,

You won’t learn anything new about the Trumps—but you’ll see (in horrifying detail) how they take advantage of people—then callously destroy them.

Most of the 350 pages deal with Stephanie’s years-long “friendship” with Melania. I’ll skip the gossipy details. 

OK. I’ll tell you one. The author has reason to believe that Ivanka planted the plagiarized portions of Michelle Obama’s speech to make Melania look bad.

Now let’s cut to the chase: How the Trumps framed Stephanie for their crimes—and how Melania, who repeatedly took advantage of her “friend,” didn’t care.

Stephanie (after 350 pages, I feel like we’re on a first-name basis) worked for Vogue as Director of Special Events. Her resume included producing the Met Gala and:

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She opened her own, consulting business, SWW Creative. She was recruited to produce Trump’s inauguration, which behind the scenes was a disorganized mess. (She didn’t need the job. The inauguration needed her.)

To work for the Trumps, she gave up her business and clients so she’d have no appearance of conflict.

She thought from the beginning there was something odd about the contract she was offered. Rick Gates “coordinated” her contract. Yes, this Rick Gates, the one who pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents during the Mueller probe.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee incorporated a company, WIS, to “develop, produce, and manage” the events. She didn’t understand why it had to be so complicated, and why she was instructed to subcontract WIS, given that they were doing 90% of the work. 

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Why didn’t the inaugural committee just pay WIS directly? Why did they try to push her company, SWW Creative—doing a fraction of the work—into the more prominent position? She was told “It’s easier this way,” and “better” for her. She said, “speak to my lawyer.”

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 Her lawyer never ended up approving the arrangement.

The budget was $25 million. They ended up spending $27 million. She received $480K for her work. The rest of the money went to pay vendors—but the money went through her company.

For the next 13 months, she worked for Melania in the White House without pay, absorbing her own expenses. She ended up working under a “gratuitous service agreement.”

Why did she do it? Loyalty. Dedication. And because Ivanka kept redirecting the money intended for Melania’s staff. 

In Feb. 2018, the inaugural scandal hit. The inaugural committee had raised $107 million, but only $27 million was accounted for. Investigators wanted to know where the other $80 million had gone. 

Stephanie started to smell a rat when she received a document “the family” was preparing, to “get ahead” of the story. Her company was listed front and center—with a number of inaccuracies.

The stress had already taken a toll on her health. About this time, members of Melania’s staff started being rude to her, and she was ready to quit. Friends advised her to quit. The same friends warned her not to work for the Trumps. Soon it was all just too much. On Feb. 14, she wrote an email to Melania resigning.

The next morning, she awoke to find her name and picture splashed across the New York Times.

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The press releases and planted articles made it look as if Melania’s ‘friend’ had made off with $27 million, and when the White House found out, they fired her. She understood the stories about her were to distract from where the other $80 million had gone.

She begged Melania to clear her name and tell the truth, but Melania refused. (Melania did advise Stephanie to get a lawyer because Stephanie had “done nothing wrong.”)

The $480K she earned for the inauguration disappeared into legal fees, and she’s now one million in the hole. But that isn’t her complaint.

Her complaint is the emotional devastation of framed for corruption and set up as the scapegoat by someone she thought was a friend.

The writing of this book seems to have partly cathartic, to work through a painful experience. How does it feel to be betrayed by someone you thought was a friend, and framed for a crime you didn’t commit? For Stephanie, it felt like this:

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And this:

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Stephanie will have the last word—and I don’t mean this book. She’s working with prosecutors looking into financial crimes connected with the inauguration.

She ignored the warnings from friends because she genuinely thought Melania was different. She thought Melania was being used. They’d been friends since before Melania was a Trump. She thought they were friends. In her words, “what a fool I was.”

Had I been the editor, I would have cut about 150 pages from the book. I understand the value of catharticism in writing, but too much is here. I believe the purpose of literature is to expand our sympathies. I also believe our ability to sympathize makes us human.

No, this isn’t the worst thing the Trumps have done, not by a long shot. Many of their victims have no resources and can’t afford lawyers. But this is still the story of a person who thought she was helping a “friend.” Yes, she learned her lesson. Among other things, she was shocked out of her previous indifference to politics. She gets it now.

Recently I wrote about what we have to worry about (as opposed to the unhelpful, panic-inducing catastrophizing). My #1 worry: More people will vote for Trump, or the electorate will be so evenly split as to validate the GOP views and goals.

If the experiment in self-governance fails, it will be because so many American voters—despite everything we know about the Trumps—will check “Trump” instead of “Biden” on their ballots

In other words, the real danger isn’t Russian hacking. The problem is us.

[To read as a Twitter thread]


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Teri has written novels, short stories, nonfiction for both young readers and adults, and lots of legal briefs. She is currently working on a book on disinformation to be published by Macmillan Publishers. Her political commentary has appeared on the NBC Think Blog and CNN.com. Her articles and essays have appeared in publications as diverse as Education Week, Slate Magazine, and Scope Magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in the American Literary View, The Iowa Review, and others. For twelve years she maintained a private appellate law practice limited to representing indigents on appeal from adverse rulings. She believes with the ACLU that when the rights of society's most vulnerable members are denied, everybody's rights are imperiled. She also believe with John Updike that the purpose of literature is to expand our sympathies. Teri lives with her family on the beautiful central coast in California.

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